It’s Louisville’s land of opportunity, and it could be a bustling place a decade from now if a Denver development firm has its way.
However, a neighboring property owner and developer is hoping Louisville officials see things from his perspective and reject plans he feels are too big, too dense and born of a mind-set that emphasizes profit over quality.
Phillips 66 has made no bones about wanting to offload roughly 430 acres of highly visibly, highway-accessible real estate it owns at the northwest notch of U.S. 36 and the Northwest Parkway in Louisville. A potential buyer has the property under contract, but Phillips 66 officials have declined to say who.
The city of Louisville’s “current developments” web page provides a solid clue. Since June, Denver’s Brue Baukol Capital Partners has submitted a load of documents, including two versions of a general development plan, for the triangular chunk of land known to many in the area as the StorageTek property.
Brue Baukol is calling it Nawatny Ridge, according to recent plans. Under the company’s vision, the parcel’s 390 “developable acres” could be home to 6.4 million square feet of new construction by 2040.
Existing zoning put in place in 2010 allows for a maximum of 2.5 million square feet of development on the site, Louisville planning director Rob Zuccaro said in an email. The new plans call for a drastic jump in density — a 156% increase — that rubs Michael Eisenstein the wrong way.
Eisenstein is the founder of Louisville-based Land Capital, a development firm with a number of projects in the works in Boulder County and Denver. He owns a 1.5-acre parcel at the corner of South 88th Street and Campus Drive in Louisville. It shows up in Brue Baukol’s site plans as a small cutout in the northwest corner of the larger property.
“It’s a massacre of land,” Eisenstein said of Brue Baukol’s plans. “They already know what they want on that land. All it is, is a major flip. Minimize cost. Maximize profit. Create margin. I know that because I’m a damn developer, too.”
The property has a lot of recent history. It was the headquarters of Louisville’s most high-profile corporate citizen, StorageTek, before that company was bought out by Sun Microsystems in 2005. In 2008, ConocoPhillips bought the land from Sun for $55.6 million with plans to turn it into a state-of-the-art research campus employing 7,000 people. That project never materialized.
Phillips 66 spun off from its parent company in 2012 and has been trying to sell the property for years. An estimated $50 million deal with a California investment group that was pitching the land to Amazon during the HQ2 sweepstakes fell through last year.
Brue Baukol did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment for this story. A letter submitted to Louisville in June is the developer’s most thorough public comment on what could be a transformational project at crossroads of Louisville, Superior and Broomfield.
“(Brue Baukol Capital Partners) aims to create a master-planned mixed-use community that both activates another node of the community while paying homage to its historical openness,” Jordan Swisher, a vice president with the firm, wrote in that letter.
Swisher outlined plans for a 1,500-unit senior living and continuing care facility there. The middle of property would host a 500,000-square-foot corporate campus expected to bring 2,500 jobs to town.
Brue Baukol has a tenant/buyer on the line for that project. Swisher described it as “a large organization (that) has identified this property as a best-in-class opportunity for a new office space development and headquarters … ”
The company’s most recent plan calls for 40% of the developable space there — more than 157 acres — to be preserved as open space. The remainder of the land would host as much as 3.4 million square feet of office, retail and hotel space.
Eisenstein believes Louisville would be better served it if Brue Baukol dedicated 80% of the property as open space.
“The fact of the matter is this is the development of the past in the region,” he said. “Now that land prices are higher and rents are higher, you don’t need to create a gridlike city anymore.”
Louisville’s infrastructure, like the two-lane South 88th Street that forms the property’s western boundary, is ill-equipped to handle traffic the plan would bring, he says. He’s also concerned about the speed at which Brue Baukol has been moving to get its plans approved.
After submitting its initial plan in late June, the company was set to go before the Louisville planning commission on Sept. 12 before requesting a last-minute extension. Louisville Mayor Bob Muckle this week said Louisville officials suggested to Brue Baukol that it take its time with the plans and “do this right.”
The firm submitted a much more detailed traffic and mobility study and an updated development plan last week. Those documents will be reviewed by planning staff and Broomfield and Boulder county officials before any hearing is scheduled.
The new site plan shows a rerouted Campus Drive, the future east-west artery that the developer will build from where it deadends today near Monarch High School through to South 96th Street just north of the Northwest Parkway. The reroute created a 16.8-acre parcel of land north of the road that Brue Buakol would give to Louisville as open space before any development gets underway.
The traffic study predicts that by 2040 the fully-built out property would generate an average of 32,175 vehicle trips per day on weekdays. That number would decrease to 27,432 if a number of things outlines in regional mobility plans are implemented, the study says.
Potential network improvements listed in the report include the completion of the controversial Jefferson Parkway project and the creation of a bus rapid transit network on 96th Street. The parkway, a long-promised four-lane toll road connecting northwest metro area communities and creating a full beltway around Denver, is on hold at the moment to provide time for additional soil testing. Its alignment passes along the eastern boundary of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. A soil sample taken there this summer was found to contain heightened levels of plutonium.
The Boulder Valley School District is on board with Brue Baukol’s plans. In addition to Monarch High, the property also is across the street from the Monarch K-8 school. The two schools serve nearly 2,500 kids, according to BVSD. The only way to access them today is to take 88th Street to Campus Drive, a situation that creates substantial traffic backups.
“We’re extremely happy to get Campus Drive improved as a part of the development,” said BVSD senior planner Glen Segrue.
For Muckle, it’s too early to be concerned about the scope of a proposed project on the site. The term-limited mayor has been part of the City Council since 2005, about as long as the former StorageTek property has been a story in town.
Speaking in general terms and not specifically about Brue Baukol’s plans, Muckle said, “Certainly, the market will typically bring you as much as they think they can get from a market point of view and then its a question of what the city will accept and whether they have managed the impacts on traffic, on water use and all the other things that come with large developments.”